I've been stewing for a few weeks on the leadership efforts displayed by that of the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger, admiring both his dedication and courage to set up the underdog team for a win.
For two years, he worked diligently on both the strategy and setting the vision. The strategy included getting what he felt was an antiquated selection process fixed so that the players who were playing their best going into the Ryder Cup actually got to play. In addition, he was able to negotiate 4 captain's picks instead of just 2. That helped him to feel like he could implement a truly winning lineup because, at the end of the day, a win can only be achieved if the guys were playing well leading up to the event.
He also set up a vision which, interestingly, wasn't so much about winning at all. He wanted simply to utilize the Ryder Cup as an opportunity for as many people as possible to have an experience they would never forget, win or lose. He even made sure he had 3 co-captains, people he knew he could trust and people who had had his back in the past when he needed them. Faldo said he didn't want more than one, that he himself wanted to maintain a pulse on the tournament. But you have to admire Azinger for realizing that having a small core team around him would not only give those guys the experience of a lifetime, a small thank you for their previous service to him, but would also help to relieve the intense pressure and tension that an event of that magnitude ensues.
Whether you're an avid golfer or have tooled around a bit or even have never picked up a club in your life, Azinger certainly shows us some leadership lessons that we can apply to our business, our clients' businesses and our life.
1. Make a thorough evaluation of the current situation, what has worked and what hasn't. Azinger met with all the past U.S. Ryder Cup captains to get their input, but in the end he made his own analysis and conclusions.
2. Push for change. If your analysis reveals to you that the process needs to be improved then, by all means, do what you have to do to make those changes happen. Azinger had to stand up for what he believed in, he made specific recommendations on what needed to be changed to improve the selection process, and got agreement by the golfing gods. No small feat.
3. Set a vision that people can embrace. And champion the cause. Companies often fail maintaining a vision because either their vision is only about making money or they forget to rally their people around the common bond. Azinger did a great job of creating a vision that was about creating the experience of a lifetime and he grounded his vision in plans that supported it, even with a PEP rally, t-shirts printed with the "13th man,"-- a phrase he coined for the Kentucky crowd, and making sure the details supported his vision. I believe a vision like this took pressure off the team because they knew that if they had a great experience they were winners to matter the final outcome.
4. Let the team members be themselves. What I liked about Azinger's style was that he seemed to allow each team member to flourish in their own space. Professional golfers certainly are akin to this more individual sport so allowing their strong personalities, their playing preferences and their individual strengths to shine through was key to the success of the overall team.
5. Allow what's going to happen, happen. Game day is not the time to micro-manage. Azinger had a lot of trust in his team and his co-captains, he believed in the strategy and vision that he cast, and when it came for the guys to tee it up, he had to "let go and let God" so-to-speak. He had to let it ride. This is probably the most difficult thing for a leader to do -- to gently stand back. To coach and not direct. To reassure and not be disappointed when things don't go your way. To continually motivate and pump up both the players and the crowd or audience.
6. Celebrate with your team and extended team. I fully believe that Azinger planned to celebrate fully even if they lost. Because his vision of creating a highly memorable experience would have been fulfilled. And the team would not have walked away with heavy heads in defeat. The fact that they could celebrate with such a patriotic win just made the end sweet -- a win that they could share with their family, friends and the rest of the nation especially at a time that the nation -- and the world for that matter -- is in economic turmoil.
There has never been a time in recent history in which influential leadership is as important as it is right now. Whether you're running a department, a division, a company or a nation, it is imperative to be an effective leader who can cast the right vision, who can implement strategy and change for the better, and who can encourage greatness in the people he or she leads.